Meditation 101

medIn yoga, I often refer to a chaotic mind as a “dirty cup of water.” I know – it’s not the prettiest thing to imagine, but neither is a mind that is going a million miles per hour! Now, I use the “dirty cup of water” analogy because when it is shaken, the water is cloudy and full of debris, but when the water is still, the dirt settles to the bottom of the cup and the water becomes clear again. The practice of meditation is like letting your cup of water (your mind) become clear and still again.

As a yoga instructor, I will be the first to admit that meditation is not easy – if it was, then everyone would do it. Even after years of practice, it can still be a struggle to reach that state of calm and serenity. The fact is, most of us lead pretty hectic lifestyles when it comes to work, family, engagements, etc. and we can’t help but be in determination mode 24/7. Even taking five minutes a day to just close our eyes and breathe seems like an impossible task.

Well, I’m here to help make meditation more readily available to you. You can practice the following meditation technique in silence or with calming music playing in the background. It’s up to you. :)

Here are some steps you can take to help transform your mind and your meditation practice.

Step 1:

Sit or lie down in a comfortable and quite space, allowing your palms to face the sky.

Step 2:

Stay present and become totally present of your surroundings. What do you hear? Do you feel any tension? What are thoughts? Now let ALL of that go. EVERY SINGLE THING.

Step 3:

Focus on your breath by inhaling and exhaling out your nose. Take long, deep breath to help your mind stay focused. I like to useSama Vritti (equal breathing) here. This type of pranayama requires you to inhale and exhale for an equal length. Inhale through your knows for five counts, hold your breath at the top, and then exhale for five counts. Repeat this breathing technique throughout your meditation practice.

Step 4:

While you’re meditating, do a body scan by taking note of each part of the body. I like to start with my toes and then work my way up the body until I reach the crown of my head.

Step 5:

Towards the end of your meditation, take five to 10 deep inhales and “Om” as your exhale. I promise, nobody will make fun of you.

Remember, practice makes perfect. If it feels difficult the first few times – stick with it. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much easier it gets to meditate if you keep a regular practice.

Om shanti and Namaste!

XO

Simple Mushroom Pasta + Nut-Free Pesto (GF)

 

Simple Mushroom Penne

SIMPLE MUSHROOM PASTA + NUT-FREE PESTO (GF)

Ingredients

  • 8 oz gluten-free pasta
  • 4 tbsp butter or coconut oil
  • 16 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated or shaved
  • 1 1/2 cups basil
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup shredded parmesan
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • salt & pepper to taste

Cooking Directions

  1. Cook the gluten-free pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, combine all the nut-free pesto ingredients (ingredients 5-10) in a food processor and pulse until smooth.
  3. Heat the butter/coconut oil over medium heat in a wide skillet. Add the mushrooms and saute for 8-10 minutes, until the mushrooms are a deep golden brown. Add the gluten-free pasta to the pan and stir to combine, adding Parmesan, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme or other herbs to taste.
  4. Pour gluten-free pasta into bowls and top with a generous spoonful of the nut-free pesto OR stir the pesto directly into the pasta.
  5. Enjoy with a smile!

Warm Green Goddess Rice Bowl (GF)

warm green goddess bowl

Warm Green Goddess Rice Bowl (GF)
serving size: 1 bowl
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 handful kale, stalk removed and leaves chopped
1 small handful baby spinach
3 slices of halloumi, sliced
1 Egg
1/3 lemon
1/2 ripe Avocado

the method:

  1. Cook the rice according to its package. I like to use the microwaveable pouches available at Trader Joe’s to save time. Plus, it yields PERFECTLY cooked rice in 3 minutes.
  2. You will need two frying pans on the go at once. Place some coconut oil in both pans.
  3. In one frying pan, add the garlic, and cook until fragrant. Place the kale and spinach in and saute in the pan till just soft. You want it to just start to pop in green color.  Remove the pan from the heat and arrange on your plate/bowl.
  4. In your other pan, place your halloumi in and turn once it become golden and soft. Keep the halloumi off to one side on the pan, and use the other side to fry your egg.
  5. Arrange your bowl, green mix on the bottom egg and halloumi, I serve mine with a wedge of lemon and avocado on the side.

Brussels Sprouts + Mushroom Penne (gf)

mushroom brussels sprouts pasta

Brussels Sprouts + Mushroom Penne (gf)

ingredients:
serves 4

8oz gluten-free penne pasta (I used quinoa/lentil pasta)
1/4 cup coconut oil
3 jumbo shallots, diced
8oz sliced mushrooms
12oz whole brussels sprouts, trimmed then shredded
salt and pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup gluten-free veggie broth
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
1 tbsp ghee
1/2 fresh lemon
romano cheese, for topping

the method:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil then add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain then set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, heat coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot but not smoking, add the shallots and saute for 1-2 minutes, stirring often and being careful as the oil may spatter a bit at the beginning.
  3. Add mushrooms and saute until they begin to shrink and release some of their liquid, 3 minutes. Add brussels sprouts then turn heat up to medium-high, season with salt and pepper, and then saute until brussels sprouts are cooked but still have a tiny bit of bite, 6-8 minutes. Add garlic then saute for 30 more seconds. Add veggie broth then simmer until reduced by half, 3-4 minutes.
  4. Stir in chopped dill, ghee and juice from 1/2 lemon. Taste then add salt, pepper, and/or lemon juice and then combine mixture with pasta and stir well. Scoop pasta into bowls then top with freshly grated romano cheese.

Notes:
A vegetarian take on this Cooking Light recipe.

One-Ingredient Banana Ice Cream (GF)(V)

banana ice cream

It’s summertime and the temperatures are still astronomically high in the Valley of the Sun. I’m not joking… we are supposed to hit 113° this weekend. That’s why I decided to do a healthy take on a classic summertime treat: Ice cream. This vegan and gluten-free recipe is super simple to make, and you don’t need to have an ice cream maker, heavy cream, sugar and all that jazz – all you need are 2 ripe bananas and a food processor or blender. I topped my ice cream with cacao nibs, but I will leave it up to you whether you want to have your ice cream dressed to the nines or not.

Banana Ice Cream (GF)(V)
ingredients:
2 ripe bananas (they should be sweet and soft)
Optional garnishes: cacao nibs, Nutella, nuts, granola (the list goes on!)

the method:

  1. Start by peeling the bananas and cutting them into even coins. (When bananas are ripe, the peel may stick to the fruit, so make sure you remove leftover peel to prevent any bitterness in your ice cream.)
  2. Place the coins in a glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place them in the freezer overnight.
  3. Place the frozen banana slices in the bowl of a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. This process will take a while and you’ll have to scrape down the side of your food processor multiple times with a spatula.
  4. The bananas will first become very crumbly, then they will look like oatmeal, but you’ll eventually end up with a very soft and creamy mixture.
  5. At this point, place back in the glass bowl and in the freezer for just about an hour. You can of course always enjoy it right away if you like very soft ice cream. I wanted to eat mine immediately, so it was pretty soft…
  6. Garnish with your favorite toppings and serve.

4 Yoga Poses That Help Ease Anxiety

yoga f anxietyTo say that dealing with anxiety is a challenge is quite an understatement. It can create feelings of fear, panic, decreased self-esteem, worry and defeat. I personally was diagnosed with anxiety a few years ago – I know that it’s painful, difficult and downright frustrating to not “be in control” of your thoughts and your actions. Instead, you fell consumed by your endless thoughts and worries.

As a certified yoga instructor and a dedicated student of the practice, I have witnessed how yoga can help ease anxiety, depression, panic attacks and even PTSD.

The beauty of yoga is that it is for everyone. You don’t need a studio or fancy yoga gear to practice these poses – all you need is space and the willingness to allow yoga into your heart and mind. Along with guidance from a medical professional, you can also find a release from that grip that anxiety has over you through these four asanas that I find to be the most effective in managing anxiety.

1.  Uttana Shishosana/Extended Puppy Pose: This invigorating inversion is one of those poses that requires minimal effort but still gives you a great, relaxing stretch that offers endless benefits to both the body and the mind. Whether you utilize this pose in the beginning of your practice or as a closer, the deep stretch in your shoulders and your spine triggers the mind to slow down and enjoy the gentle movement you are giving your body.

The method: Begin on all fours (tabletop pose) with a straight, neutral spine – hands are shoulders-width distance apart, shoulders are over the wrists, hips are over the knees, knees are in line with the wrists and the tops of your feet are on the floor. As you inhale, walk your hands forward as your chest drops to the floor and your hips reach back toward your heels. This pose has a mini backbend in it, so you should feel your shoulder blades widening and releasing any tension that tends to build up in that area. If it’s available to you, drop your forehead to the floor and allow your neck to relax. With every exhale, press deeper into your hands. Hold this pose for 30 seconds to one minute. Since extended puppy pose reverses the blood flow, slowly exit this pose to prevent dizziness/lightheadedness.

Tip: If bringing the forehead to the floor is creating more pain than pleasure, try putting a bolster or a folded blanket under your forehead to ease any unwanted pressure.

2. Salamba Sirsasana/Supported Headstand: Headstand is another pose that relieves anxiety by reversing the blood flow and by requiring you to stay present through focusing on your breath and muscle engagement in that moment. Don’t let this pose scare you; it may look hard, but it is actually attainable for all yogi levels.

The method: If your mat is on the thin side, use a blanket for additional head support. Kneel on the floor while crossing your arms over chest, allowing the right hand to rest on your left shoulder, and your left hand on your right shoulder. Keeping that connection, allow your body to hinge forward, propping your torso up on your elbows. Doing this step will force your elbows to remain shoulder-width distance and will place your elbows exactly where they need to be on your mat. Now, release your hands from the shoulders and allow them to lay parallel to one another on the mat and lace your fingers together, but keep your palms open. While pressing down on your forearms and your wrists, roll your upper arms slightly outward and come up on to the tips of your toes. As you tip-toe forward, bring the crown of your head to the floor, allowing the back of your head to nestle into your palms.

Keep walking your toes up with your heels elevated until you feel your hips are stacked over your shoulders. Remember to keep your quads active in this pose and to keep your torso long and firm in this set-up. Kick both knees up at the same; this may cause you to bend your knees while you kick up – and that is okay! Find your balance while your thighs are perpendicular to the floor by firming the tailbone against the back of the pelvis. Spiral your thighs inward and keep engagement in your toes (think “Barbie Toe”) and press the heels toward the ceiling, straightening into the knees. You should be able to draw one straight line from the crown of your head to the arches of your feet.

You can hold this pose anywhere from five seconds to five minutes. Exit the pose on an exhalation while keeping the shoulders firm and hips active, allowing the feet to lightly hit the floor at the same time.

Tip: If this is your first time trying headstand, or you would like some additional support, try setting up against a wall, allowing your feet to lightly rest against it while you’re inverted.

3. Ardha Padmasana Vrksasana/Half Lotus Tree Pose: The intense concentration required in this pose helps ease anxiety by taking your mind off of your thoughts and forcing you to focus on your physical self.

The method: Stand with your feet hips-width distance, and shift your weight into your left leg. Bend your right knee and allow the outside edge of that foot to rest on your left hip bone. If this feels too intense, or your hips don’t allow half lotus, place the sole of your left foot on the inside of your left thigh, calf or ankle with your toes pointing to the ground – whichever feels more comfortable. Never allow your foot to rest against the knee, doing so will cause more harm than good further down the line. This version is simply called Vrksasana or Tree Pose.

I like to tell my students to focus on an object in front of them that isn’t moving, like a block, the top of their mat or by focusing on the point where the wall meets the floor. This will help keep your balance and force you to stay in the moment. Now, engage your core and bring your hands into prayer pose by your heart, known as Anjali Mudra or the Salutation Seal. Hold this pose for up to one minute. Repeat on the left side.

Tip: If you are having trouble keeping your balance in this pose, try shifting your weight into your big toe on your standing foot.

4. Janu Sirsasana/Head-to-Knee Forward Bend: One of the benefits of forward bending is reducing tension in the body and the mind. This pose is extremely effective in calming the brain which aids in relieving mild depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

The method: Start with both of your legs extended in front of you, keeping the toes engaged (again – think “Barbie Toe”). On an inhale, draw your right knee into your chest, forcing your right foot to come off the ground and cradle it. On an exhale, open the knee to the right, allowing the sole of your foot to rest against the inside of your left thigh, creating 90° angle from your right knee to your left foot. If you can open your angle to wider than 90°, go ahead and do it. Extend your arms overhead, and fold over your straight left leg on an exhale. You can hold this pose anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes. Repeat on the other side.

Tip: To keep your hips square as you are bending in this pose, reach towards the outside edge of the foot on your straight leg with the opposite hand, and then fold forward.

Meatless Monday: Veggie Stir-Fry with Quinoa Thai Noodles (GF)(V)

stirfry

 

Veggie Stir-Fry with Quinoa Thai Noodles (GF)(V)

the ingredients:
1 bunch of bok choy
1 large bunch of broccoli cut into smaller pieces
1/2 cup snow peas
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 spring onions, sliced
1/2 inch fresh ginger, minced
Thai rice noodles
1/4 cup tamari
4 tbsp sesame oil, divided
1 package of red quinoa thai noodles

the method:

  1. Cook noodles according to the instructions on the package.
  2. While noodles are soaking, prep veggies and begin sauteing them. Heat wok or pan with sloping edges on med-high heat. Drizzle in sesame oil and saute the broccoli with garlic slivers. Toss in remaining veggies, excluding bok choy.
  3. Add tamari and add another dollop of sesame oil as you cook. 
  4. Add snow peas last so they remain deliciously crisp and sweet.
  5. Remove veggies and drain noodles. Toss in the same pan with a dash of sesame oil and tamari, and saute noodles until they turn a beautiful golden color. Plate noodles.
  6. In the same pan, lightly saute bok choy with a bit of tamari and sesame oil.
  7. Layer bok choy over noodles, then pile veggies on top of bok choy.